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2017 Xfinity Series: Driver Rankings

Mark Taylor

Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A five-time FSWA award winner, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year each of the last two years. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

1. Kyle Busch/Denny Hamlin/TBD – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – Busch typically makes about 15-17 starts for this team. We might see some slight pull back from that this season, but it won't have enough affect to remove this team from the pole position of the rankings. Busch has averaged eight victories per season in those limited starts over the last two years, so the bang for the buck is off the charts. If recent trends hold true, we should see a mix of Denny Hamlin, some younger JGR talent and some road course specialists in the No. 18 Toyota Camry. All-in-all it makes for one of the most potent teams in the Xfinity Series garage. Busch wins about half his starts, so that factor drives this team's worth. They'll pile up the wins and Top 5s again in 2017.

2. Daniel Suarez/Kyle Busch/Denny Hamlin
– No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – The 2016 Xfinity Series champion had a terrific campaign last season. On the heels of Suarez's Rookie of the Year season in 2015, he followed with a three-win, 19 Top 5 season in 2016 en route to the title. The No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team returns completely unchanged from last year and Suarez will also return. However, it will be in a part-time capacity as he is being promoted to the Monster Energy Cup Series and a campaign for Rookie of the Year in NASCAR's top division. Suarez will still make about 10 starts for this team in a part-time capacity. We also expect to see a good dose of JGR's other Cup stars in this car in a week-to-week rotation.

3. Elliott Sadler
– No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet – Sadler went from bust-to-boom with his transition to JR Motorsports in 2016. In his first season of racing for the No. 1 Chevrolet team the veteran driver stacked up three wins (his most since 2012) and a career-best 29 Top-10 finishes. Sadler would be in the running to win the Xfinity Series championship right up until the last race at Homestead, where he would fall just short of Daniel Suarez. Sadler returns to this team with sponsorship from OneMain Financial and will once again be paired with crew chief Kevin Meendering. The team was a real hit last season, and they should be in the mix for the championship once again this season.

4. Kyle Larson/Tyler Reddick/Justin Marks
– No. 42 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet – This team was a very pleasant surprise and top performer for last season. Larson led the way with 16 starts that yielded two victories, 11 Top-5 and 14 Top-10 finishes. He'll be in for a similar, but slightly smaller workload again in 2017. Reddick comes over from Brad Keselowski's truck series program and will get the majority of the remaining starts for this team. The talented youngster piled up three victories and 31 Top 10s in that division of NASCAR over the last two years, so he'll be a good fit in a timeshare of this team with Monster Energy Cup star Larson. Marks will likely be the road course starter for this team, which is also good news as he claimed a victory at Mid-Ohio last season for the No. 42 CGR team.

5. Brad Keselowski/Ryan Blaney/Joey Logano
– No. 22 Penske Racing Ford – This team fell off their dominance a bit last year. Keselowski made 15 starts for this team, but failed to reach victory lane. Instead he registered five Top-5 and 12 Top-10 finishes in those starts. Logano would make 11 starts and also fail to win, but he picked up five Top-5 and 10 Top-10 finishes. Blaney rounded out the schedule with six starts and claimed four Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes for the No. 22 Ford team. As you can see the consistency and strength was there despite the multi-driver lineup. They just had a winless campaign for a team that is used to winning five or six races per year. We expect to see this team get back to their winning ways in 2017, but not all at once.

6. Austin Dillon/Paul Menard/TBD
– No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – The No. 2 RCR team has been one of the stronger cars in the Xfinity Series the past two seasons. Dillon led this team to two victories and 16 Top-10 finishes in 19 starts in 2016. Michael McDowell chipped in with another victory at Road America during the summer, and Menard showed well collecting six Top 10s in eight starts in the No. 2 Chevrolet. We should see a similar driver lineup and schedule once again for RCR's flagship team in this division of NASCAR. The talented Justin Alexander is back atop the pit box calling the shots for this team. Once again the No. 2 RCR team will be one of the better multi-driver teams of the Xfinity Series.

7. Justin Allgaier
– No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet – Allgaier had easily his best season to-date in the Xfinity Series in 2016. The 30-year-old veteran posted career-best marks in Top 5s with 13 and Top 10s with 27. The performance allowed him to participate in the final, four-driver championship round of the Chase at Homestead. Allgaier would come up short of the championship, but he would serve notice that he'll be a contender to win the title going forward. The JRM driver returns to the No. 7 Chevrolet team this season and it appears he'll be teamed with crew chief Jason Burdett once again. While Allgaier lacks the speed and skill to win multiple races, he does have the consistency in his driving skill to rack up bunces of Top-10 finishes. We expect him to collect many in 2017.

8. Ty Dillon/TBD
– No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – Dillon's three-season run with this team isn't completely over yet. He will be competing full-time in NASCAR's top division, but he will also race a part-time schedule in the RCR team's No. 3 Chevrolet. Dillon has led this team to one victory and 66 Top-10 finishes over the last three years. Obviously the more this young driver can race the better, as it is unclear at this point who will help fill out the 33-race schedule. Dillon should start anywhere from 20-24 events for this team. He'll be teamed with a new crew chief, Matt Swiderski, and the two will look to hit the ground running at Daytona for the season-opener. Dillon has finished inside the Top 5 of the Xfinity Series driver standings each of the last three seasons, and that's not by mistake.

9. Ryan Blaney/Joey Logano
– No. 12 Penske Racing Ford – This has been Penske Racing's part-time team for a number of seasons now. The No. 12 Ford will be going full-time in 2017. Right now the driver lineup isn't completely clear, but it will be whomever is not in the No. 22 Ford any given week. With that ride being Brad Keselowski's car of choice, that should provide us with a steady diet of Logano and Blaney in the No. 12 Ford. For a part-time team, this was likely the stronger of the two Penske cars last season. Logano claimed a pair of victories in this car at Watkins Glen and Charlotte later in the season. Blaney added a Top-10 finish at Kentucky in one of his two starts in the car. In addition to these two drivers we could see some of Alex Tagliani on the road courses, and round out what should be a very talented driver lineup.

10. William Byron
– No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet – One of the biggest driver defections of last season was the move of Byron from the Toyota camp in the truck series to the Chevrolet camp of JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. Byron signed a deal to make the move up in NASCAR and further his development. The young driver grabbed attention last season in the truck series with a stunning seven-win campaign and Rookie of the Year honors in that division. Before that Byron claimed the championship with a four-win campaign in the K&N Pro Series East in 2015. His trajectory through the world of stock car racing has been rocket-like. Now Byron will hope to take the next steps with this strong JR Motorsports team. He should be the top contender to win Rookie of the Year in 2017, and possibly surprise in the final driver standings.

11. Matt Tifft
– No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – With Kyle Busch and a driver rotation firmly set in the JGR No. 18, and with Daniel Suarez and another rotation set for the No. 19, that leaves Tifft to likely occupy the team's No. 20 Toyota. It hasn't been announced for sure as of this writing, but it's kind of a process of elimination. Tifft has spent the last two seasons competing on a part-time basis in the Camping World Truck Series and the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs and Kyle Busch. Over that span he's amassed two Top-5 and 14 Top-10 finishes in 33 starts. Tifft hasn't set the world on fire, but the 20-year-old driver is ready to take the next step in his development. He's going to get a fantastic opportunity racing for one of the strongest stables in this division of NASCAR. Tifft will be teamed with crew chief Matt Beckman and the two will look to make some waves in the young driver's first full season. The potential here is great for this driver and team, but the learning curve will also be steep.

12. Brennan Poole
– No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – Poole will return to the No. 48 Chevrolet of Chip Ganassi Racing this season. The young driver posted modestly good numbers with this team in 2016. Poole got stronger as last season wore on, and he'd wind up with four Top-5 and 17 Top-10 finishes. The performance was good enough for an impressive eighth-place finish in the final driver standings. Now with 50-career starts in the Xfinity Series, the 25-year-old driver is one of the more seasoned young talents in this division of NASCAR. At the end of the day Poole's potential is only limited by how far Ganassi equipment can carry him, but he would appear to be a driver on the verge of a possible break out. Poole will once again have Chad Norris' guidance from atop the war wagon as he takes his next steps in driver development.

13. Cole Custer
– No. 00 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – This young driver was so talented that Dale Earnhardt Jr. basically started a truck series team from scratch just to give Custer a ride the last two seasons. He opened eyes when he became the youngster winner in NASCAR touring series history at age 16 and that made Earnhardt a believer in his skills. Custer's time in the truck series is now complete with two wins and 24 Top 10s spread across just 42 starts. He'll take over the initial entry into the Xfinity Series by Stewart Haas Racing. This new team and rookie driver will go head-to-head with William Byron for the ROTY honors in 2017. Custer will be teamed with talented crew chief, Jeff Meendering, in the No. 00 Ford team. New teams can be surprising or they can be underperforming. In the case of Custer, his talent should elevate this team quickly to overcome any growing pains.

14. Brendan Gaughan
– No. 62 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – The 40-year-old veteran will be back for another season of racing at RCR. Gaughan now has three full season of competition under his belt with this team. Last year he racked up four Top-5 and 16 Top-10 finishes, both career-high marks for this driver. However, Gaughan failed to visit victory lane for the second-straight season and finished a lowly 12th in the overall driver standings. This was due mostly to the newly implemented Chase format in the Xfinity Series. Gaughan will be paired again with crew chief Shane Wilson and they'll see if they can get the No. 62 Chevrolet back into victory lane in the coming season. While that's not very likely, we should still see strong consistency from this driver and team on the larger ovals, road course and cookie cutter tracks. Only the short tracks seem to be his biggest weakness.

15. Daniel Hemric
– No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – The young talent is a defector from the Ford and Brad Keselowski Racing camp of the Camping World Truck Series. Hemric spent the past four seasons (two full-time) in that division of NASCAR sharpening his skills. He signed a contract to drive for Childress in 2017 and compete for Rookie of the Year honors in the Xfinity Series. Hemric takes over the strong No. 21 Chevrolet and will be paired with crew chief, Danny Stockman. The talent this driver has is without question. Hemric nabbed 15 Top-5 and 30 Top-10 finishes over his last 46 starts in the truck series. That was good enough for seventh- and sixth-place finishes in the driver standings the last two years. Even though Hemric has no seat time in the Xfinity car, he should quickly adapt and begin to translate his past success to this division of NASCAR.

16. Brandon Jones
– No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – His first full-time venture into the Xfinity Series was a reasonable success last year. Jones ran the entire 33-race schedule and nabbed 12 Top-10 finishes en route to a respectable 10th-place finish in the final driver standings. While his campaign lacked the laps led and wins we'd like to see it was understandable given the depth of talent in this division of NASCAR. Jones will be expected to inch the bar higher in 2017, and he'll have a new crew chief to help him in that effort. Nick Harrison comes over to the No. 33 team and replaces Mike Hillman Jr. atop the team's war wagon. Harrison spent last season guiding Ty Dillon to 17 Top 10s and a fourth-place finish in the points. Jones will be given a big opportunity to improve and succeed this season.

17. Michael Annett
– No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet – Annett will return to the Xfinity Series in 2017, after a three-year hiatus competing in NASCAR's top division. JR Motorsports signed him to drive the strong No. 5 Chevrolet for the team. Annett brings his sponsor, Flying J, along to pay the bills and fund the team. This should be a pretty good partnership for both Annett and JRM. His last full-time season in the Xfinity Series fetched 17 Top-10 finishes and a fifth-place final driver standings for his old team at Richard Petty Motorsports. Annett certainly has some potential. This is a far better race team than the one he competed with at Petty, so there's some pretty good upward potential for this 163-start veteran.

18. Darrell Wallace Jr.
– No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford – Wallace's 2016 season failed to measure up to expectations in a few ways. His Top 10 totals dropped from 14 to nine over the previous year, and he slipped from seventh to 11th in the overall driver standings over 2015. Once again he was held out of victory lane and saw his average finish drop from 11.8 to 15.7 year-over-year. The downturn in performance was disappointing and saw Wallace nowhere near making the Chase for the Cup playoff. Roush Fenway Racing is in a bit of turmoil right now and it's showing up in this race team. Wallace will return for another full schedule in 2017 although not much is known about the team's makeup or the sponsorship package. This young driver will likely face some headwinds again in his pursuit of success in the Xfinity Series.

19. Ryan Reed
– No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford – Reed had his best season to-date in 2016. He registered a career-best seven Top-10 finishes and also finished a career-best eighth overall in the final driver standings. Reed reduced his DNFs to only two and shaved his average finish down to a respectable 15.6. Those were great improvements over his prior two full-time seasons. The 23-year-old driver from the Roush stable will be back in the No. 16 Ford this season. Reed will be reunited with crew chief Phil Gould and the two will set out to raise the bar even higher for this team. With the big influx of young talent into this division of NASCAR, it will be harder than ever to improve and succeed, and Reed could encounter some headwinds in making significant improvement.

20. Blake Koch
– No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet – This small race team and driver were a very pleasant surprise in 2016. Koch drove this underfunded and underequipped team to some fantastic finishes last season. He nabbed five Top-10 finishes, which were the first of his eight-year career, and collected 21 Top-15 finishes in this very competitive division of NASCAR. It all resulted in Koch finishing a surprising seventh in the overall driver standings. He still won't be a threat to crack the Top 5 or win races in the coming season, but don't be surprised if this returning driver and race team increase their number of Top-10 finishes and keep that week-in and week-out Top-15 consistency that we grew to admire last year.

21. Spencer Gallagher
– No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet – GMS Racing will make the move from the truck series to the Xfinity Series in 2017, and they will bring with them Gallagher for this new race team. He's spent the last four seasons sharpening his racing skills in the Camping World Truck Series. Now he'll race for Rookie of the Year in this division of NASCAR. The team put Gallagher in an Xfinity car for six starts last year. The 27-year-old was able to grab one Top-10 (Daytona) and two Top-20 finishes in those efforts. It was a good introduction to this racing series for Gallagher in preparation for a full-time effort. He'll face some stiff competition for the ROTY, but will likely post 5-to-7 Top 10s and represent himself well in this first full season.

22. Ryan Sieg
– No. 39 RSS Racing Chevrolet – No official plans have been announced as of this writing, but it is expected that Sieg will return with his No .39 RSS Racing team this season. It's hard to believe but he finally crossed the 100-start plateau last season. Sieg had his best campaign to-date with three Top-10 finishes, 24 Top-20 finishes and a career-best ninth-place finish in the final driver standings. The 29-year-old Georgian is find himself suddenly among the “elder statesmen” of the Xfinity Series as it continues to shift younger from year-to-year. For what his team lacks in equipment, Sieg more than makes up for with talent and intelligence. It makes him a very predictable and consistent performer among the lower tier of drivers in this division of NASCAR.

23. Dakoda Armstrong
– No. 28 JGL Racing Toyota – Armstrong makes a return to JGL Racing in 2017. He rejoins the No. 28 team that he spent all of last season with in the Xfinity Series. Armstrong posted a surprising Top-5 finish at Iowa Speedway during the summer, and that was it for his Top-5 and Top-10 efforts. Otherwise, the 25-year-old driver reeled off a steady diet of Top-20 finishes for most of the season, and only posted one DNF. That led to a reasonably good 19.2 average finish. Armstrong will again pair with crew chief Steven Lane and look to raise the bar higher for this small race team. While Top 10s will still be scarce, the consistency should remain the same and he'll be running and competitive at the end of most every event.

24. Ross Chastain
– No. 4 JD Motorsports Chevrolet – The 23-year-old actually took a few steps back last season. After a fairly impressive 2015 rookie season, Chastain failed to post any Top-10 finishes last year and ended up one spot worse in the standings (16th) than his rookie campaign. The lack of Top 10s saw his average finish rise by a half-point to 20.8 for the season. Chastain will be back for the full season at JD Motorsports again this season. He'll again be teamed with crew chief Bryan Berry as they both look to improve team performance and finishes. Chastain has a lot of potential and they should be able to get back into the Top 10 column again in two or three races this season.

25. J.J. Yeley
– No. 44 TriStar Motorsports Toyota – It has not been announced as of this writing, but Yeley is expected to return to the No. 44 Toyota of TriStar in 2017. The 40-year-old veteran spent his first full season with this team last year and posted some respectable results. Yeley's three Top-10 finishes were a high mark since his strong 2006 season for Joe Gibbs Racing. He also finished a respectable 14th in the overall driver standings. The veteran driver didn't show many weaknesses last year, and down the stretch he was very strong with more Top-15 finishes than not. We would anticipate he'll be reunited with crew chief Frank Kerr and the two should pick right up where they left off in 2016. Yeley has been a full-time two-division NASCAR driver for much of the last decade, so he's got a bit of an ironman in him.

26. Jeremy Clements
– No. 51 Jeremy Clements Racing Chevrolet – The 11-year veteran had one of his better campaigns in the Xfinity Series last season. Clements pulled his first-career Top 5 out of the hat with a strong performance at Talladega. He also claimed three Top-10 finishes over the season. Clements would wind up 15th overall in the driver points, which is about where he's slotted the last six years. This team and driver aren't world beaters, but they take the slow and steady approach to their racing. Clements will start every race, DNF in very few (maybe 3 or 4) and generally finish inside the Top 20 most weeks. He has deep fantasy league racing appeal and daily fantasy racing value due to his consistency and predictability.

27. Garrett Smithley
– No. 0 JD Motorsports Chevrolet – Smithley's rookie season in the Xfinity Series last year was a real learning experience. The 24-year-old Georgian started in all but one race of the 33-event schedule. Smithley didn't crack the Top 10 at any point last season but he did grab a handful of Top-20 finishes along the way. His three DNFs show that the young driver was running at the end of most races. However, the 24.0 average finish shows that the No. 0 team has a way to go before they'll be considered a marginally competitive team. As of mid-January JD Motorsports and Smithley are still working out the details for this season, but that's expected to be in place before the start of the campaign.

28. Kevin Harvick
– No. 41 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – Rather than racing for JR Motorsports like he has in the recent past, Harvick will move into the new SHR No. 41 team for 2017. He will reduce his number of starts to just four events this season. Those starts will be Texas, Charlotte, Kentucky and Darlington. Make no mistake, this will be a strong race team and contenders to win each time they race. However, with the limited four-event schedule their fantasy racing impact will be limited. In weekly lineup leagues and DFS, this No. 41 team will not be one to overlook. Harvick will pilot them to Top-5 and Top-10 finishes along with challenging for wins.

29. Kasey Kahne/Dale Earnhardt Jr.
– No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet – This team was pretty potent last season with a lineup that boasted Monster Energy Cup stars and talented young drivers. The combined stats of the No. 88 team last year were two victories, 11 Top-5 and 23 Top-10 finishes among nine-combined drivers. That's pretty good for such a deep and diverse driver lineup. The No. 88 Chevrolet will be back in 2017, but only in a part-time capacity. Kahne will make two starts at Daytona and Talladega early in the schedule. Earnhardt will pick up two dates in the late summer at Bristol and Richmond. They should be Top-5 finishers in those starts, however, their fantasy racing impact is lessened by the very limited, four-date schedule.

30. Aric Almirola/TBD
– No. 98 Biagi-Denbeste Racing Ford – Almirola will return to this part-time race team again in 2017. They've been pretty good for a nine-to-ten start race team. Almirola actually won a race last season in the No. 98 Ford in the summer Daytona event. When Almirola isn't racing it's been an average of four-to-seven more starts for varied drivers, but usually ones of veteran experience. The level of performance when Almirola is in the team's Ford is pretty high, but pretty spotty when the other drivers in the rotation are on board. This team will have some limited fantasy racing impact in the roughly half-schedule slate that they'll run. They're a team to watch in daily fantasy and weekly lineup leagues when Almirola is behind the wheel.

31. TBD
– No. 01 JD Motorsports Chevrolet – This team's plans have not been fully announced as of mid-January, but the team will be returning for another full schedule. Gone will be last year's driver Ryan Preece. He led them to one Top-10 and 13 Top-20 finishes in 2016. JDM will look to ink another driver before the end of January and start making plans for this campaign. This team's potential will be directly tied to the driver that they sign to race in 2017, so it's difficult to rate them much higher than the near-30 ranking at the outset of the season. However, watch closely to see who they sign to fill the seat of the team's Chevrolet. There is the potential here for this outfit to outperform the other JD Motorsports' entries in the Xfinity Series.

32. Ray Black Jr.
– No. 07 SS Green Light Racing Chevrolet – SS Green Light Racing has not confirmed plans to race full-time this season, but that's the expectation after many seasons of competition in the lower divisions of NASCAR. Black should return to the seat of the No. 07 Chevrolet for his second full campaign in the Xfinity Series. In 33 starts last year he compiled nine Top-20 finishes, but suffered five DNFs. That brought his average finish down to a lowly 25.5. The 25-year-old Floridian was among the bottom three-or-four full-time drivers in that category. A lot of work will have to be done to improve over last season's performance. Black would again be paired with crew chief Jason Miller and the two will eagerly seek more speed and to reduce the number of DNFs.

33. Stephen Leicht – Obaika Racing
– No. 77 Chevrolet – The veteran driver Leicht is making a comeback after four years on the sidelines in NASCAR. He's made 76 starts in this division of NASCAR with one win and 16 Top-10 finishes to his credit. Leicht brings the experience and skill this small race team needs to race competitively. Obaika has only been in the Xfinity Series for the last two seasons, and featuring a whopping number of different drivers in their car. The stability and consistency that Leicht brings to the No. 77 team is a move in the right direction for success in a full-time schedule. However, the ability to crack the Top-20 on a consistent basis will be a challenge in this very competitive division of racing. Crew chief Carlos Contreras will hopefully be able to give him good cars and the guidance to perform well in his return to racing.

34. B.J. McLeod
– No. 78 B.J. McLeod Motorsports Ford – McLeod enters his third season of Xfinity Series racing with his small race team. They will run the full schedule for just the second season in 2017. McLeod struggled to just four Top-20 finishes last season and to finish a distant 20th in the overall driver standings. He'll attempt to build on that level of performance as his race team grows and hopes to expand to multiple teams. The bottom line is that McLeod will be challenged to improve on his average finish of 27.1 from last season. He'll need to reduce the six DNFs he suffered last season in order to lower that average finish. McLeod's team has a foothold in this division of NASCAR, and the challenge going forward will be to become more competitive and improve.

35. Joey Gase
– Jimmy Means Racing – No. 52 Chevrolet – Gase will once again take on a part-time schedule in the Monster Energy Cup Series and a full-time slate in the Xfinity Series for JMR. Unfortunately, the results for this No. 52 team were spotty at best last season. Gase struggled to just one Top-20 finish in 2016 and posted a lowly 27.8 average finish. His problem primarily stemmed from poor qualifying efforts and losing the lead lap early on in races. It led to a lot of racing in the back of the field for Gase and poor finishes. The team returns intact for this season and this 142-start veteran driver will look to penetrate the Top 20 of the driver standings in the Xfinity Series for just the second time in his career.

36. Brandon Gdovic
– Precision Performance Motorsports – No. 46 Chevrolet – The 24-year-old driver from Virginia has made just eight starts in the Xfinity Series spread over the last two seasons. Gdovic is moving to full-time competition with this small race team this season. He's been fairly competitive in his limited starts with this team, and now it will be the task to carry that level of performance into a full-time schedule for the first time. The challenges of a 33-start slate will be staggering and the grind of nearly weekly competition will take a toll. Gdovic will learn a lot of lessons along the way, but it's asking a lot to put too high of expectations on this race team as they venture into uncharted waters.